‘Bamboo train’ back on tracks in Battambang

Battambang’s new bamboo train, which starts at the foot of Phnom Banan, was inaugurated on Sunday afternoon. Photo supplied
Battambang’s new bamboo train, which starts at the foot of Phnom Banan, was inaugurated on Sunday afternoon. Photo supplied

Battambang's beloved “bamboo train” is back, but this time on a different set of tracks.

After shutting down last year to make way for actual train service on the tracks, the new train is now located more than 20 kilometres from the city and began operations on Sunday.

“We have six lorries to operate and provide service to the national and international tourists visiting Banan temple area,” said Soy Bora, a representative of the new train’s operators.

Originally conceived as a logistical fix during the United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia period, the original “bamboo train” was a lorry system that operated on Cambodia’s rarely used northern rail line.

However, tourists soon discovered that the improvised rail vehicles, often consisting of a small motor and a bamboo platform on wheels, were a thrilling ride through the countryside, and a cottage industry sprang up just outside the provincial capital. But with plans to redevelop the railway for other traffic, the bamboo train had to go.

Provincial tourism authorities arranged a new home for the train, with the original operators still running the business.

According to Battambang native and Butterfly Tours founder Moth Pheap, the old train was steeped in history, with the old tracks giving it a quirky charm that made it an important stop on his company’s bicycle tours.

“It was a main thing. I got a lot of people [visiting] that came to try the bamboo train,” he said.

The new track is “too far” from the city, he said, and loses some of its gritty authenticity in its new more manicured and “bland” form.

The line starts near the base of Phnom Banan, on which sits an eponymous Angkorian temple, in Kanteu II commune’s Sang Village, before ending 4 kilometres down the line at Chhoeuteal commune.

“The tourists can experience the spectacular landscape around the Banan temple, ancient carvings and fruit orchards,” Bora said. Cambodians must pay 10,000 riel (about $2.50) while foreigners will pay twice that.

Banan District Governor Chum Nhor, noting the beauty of the community forests in his district, said he hoped the new location would spur tourism growth in the area and improve local livelihoods.